Fred Herzog: Photographer of a Past Era

Posted by Howard on Jun 23, 2017

Fred Herzog’s story is irresistible: skilled photographer with an unfashionable style labours in obscurity until his seventies, then is “discovered” and becomes a local and international celebrity. Born in Stuttgart on September 21, 1930, Herzog immigrated to Canada in 1953 and began documenting everyday life in Vancouver while holding a day job as a medical photographer.

Herzog’s subject was “the social fantastic of the street” popularized by Cartier-Bresson and the post-war Humanist School, but where those cutting-edge photographers saw hard-core art in the bleak lives of street denizens, Herzog saw heart-warming scenes of cozy post-war Vancouver neighborhoods. And where the big-name photographers resolutely stuck to black-and-white, Herzog worked with a minimum of pretension in then-despised Kodachrome, documenting his subject using the slightly off tones of early colour film, imparting an irresistible sense of nostalgia to scenes of 1950s Vancouver life.

Time has been kind to him. His images of families sitting on stoops on a summer’s day, of an old-style Volkswagen Beetle turning the corner in the rain, of 1950s billboards, second-hand stores, neon signs, the working waterfront, and people dressed in pedal-pushers and zoot-suits formed a popular show at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2007 and spawned two bestselling books.

“I was trying to show vitality,” he said in 2005. “The pictures are about content. And if there is no content, take no picture. Content cannot be manufactured, in my opinion. That which I can find is better than that which you can make.”